Here’s a list I’ve come up with over the years. It’s not a complete list by any means; but it is a sort of “Top Ten” list of things that have seemed most important to us and others we know who have lived/are living abroad.
- Pray for them. I’ll just go ahead and start with the most important. One of the struggles I think we western [hemisphere] Followers have is that we devalue prayer. Take a peek in the Good Book index (or Google or biblegateway.com ) and see how many times we are told to pray or how many awesome things came out of focused prayer, by an individual or a group of people gathered together to pray. The Son Himself pleaded with His friends on the night of His betrayal to pray. It’s kind of a big deal, folks. People overseas need you to be making requests on their behalf. I will promise you that they will have days when one of the only things that gets them through is knowing you are praying for them.
- Keep in touch. In today’s world of technology, this shouldn’t be so hard to do. But, sometimes it is. Sometimes, we get busy with all the responsibilities we have and all those little things that come up at the last minute and need our urgent attention. But, if you could take 5 minutes a week – or even a month – to shoot a little email or Facebook message, it would mean THE WORLD to your friends living abroad to know that you are thinking of them and took the time to encourage or just say, “Hi!” There’s a group of folks we met in TX just before we moved overseas 8 1/2 years ago who still email us to tell us about their lives, ask questions about ours, and let us know they’re thinking of us. And there are friends we’ve met at conferences who helped teach our kids for a week or two who still keep in touch with us. One sweet lady emails A-man little jokes and riddles. Hub’s aunt often sends emails just talking about her day and life. These are some of the most anticipated emails! These are all nuggets of joy, friends. True nuggets of joy.
- You might just need to stalk them. I don’t mean be a weirdo. I just mean that, if you haven’t heard from your overseas friends in a while, find out why. Sometimes, it may just be that they have been busy and haven’t made time to send out an update. But sometimes, it may be something more serious. When some people are struggling or suffering, they disconnect with the world. Or, they may be suffering so much that they just don’t have the energy to reach out. Feb. – March of 2012 were very difficult days for us. We were traveling to a country outside our host country. Hubs and E-girl were both sick. Hubs had major responsibilities he was dealing with – while sick and taking care of E-girl. The boys and I were 30 minutes away from Hubs at a homeschool conference when Baby J got very sick and needed to be hospitalized. While Baby J was in the hospital, I had to leave A-man with a friend so he could take some very important academic tests. We also got a call during Baby J’s hospital stay that the sister of a dear friend of ours in the States was killed in a car accident, hit by a drunk driver. Knowing that our friend and her family were suffering and that we couldn’t be there to comfort them was heart breaking to us. During our time seeing doctors to find out what why Baby J wasn’t moving much at 9 months old, we were told Baby J might have a genetic disorder that could be very serious. [He didn't, by the way, and is completely caught up at 21 months!] We spent an extra week away from our home getting testing done for Baby J, and nothing came back definitive. We kept hearing, “Yes, something is wrong. But we don’t know what.” During that time and the months to follow, emails and phone calls from friends were so important to us. They encouraged us and helped us feel like we were not so very alone, even though our family and so many of our friends were on the other side of the planet. We were, and continue to be, so thankful for the friends who remembered our struggles and asked about them.
- Get personal. We heard it said a million times before we moved overseas, and then found it to be true – little things hidden under the surface in the States can become huge monsters when put “over the flame” when you find yourself living life in a unfamiliar culture with unfamiliar smells, sounds, foods, customs, expectations and language. Let me just be honest: life overseas can be really hard. Everything you’ve ever known is stripped away. All the things you take for granted, from driving a car, to shopping at the grocery store, to asking a question like, “How much does this cost?” is all new. Just like a preschooler, you have to relearn everything. And if you have children, you now have the added challenge of raising them without the safety net and support of friends and family. No one is there is help when a child gets sick or when you just need a break. Chances are, your friends overseas are struggling, especially if it’s their first year or two overseas. So, ASK THEM ABOUT IT. Ask about their heart’s condition, their attitudes, their focus, where their joy is coming from, etc. Most people don’t have to luxury of a Support Community once they’ve left the comfort of the States, so most likely no one else is going to ask those important questions of accountability.
- Care Packages. When we get a call that a package is at the post office waiting for us, everyone in the house immediately stops what they’re doing and breaks into a happy dance! It is amazing how something like a package of Ramen noodles, a box of Gold Grahams, a DVD or CD in English, a scented candle, a tub of Lysol wipes or a stack of greeting cards or notes from a small group can brighten a day and add just the right amount of pep to everyone’s step. It brings smiles to faces and lets people know, “We are thinking of you! We care about you! And we remember you love Cadbury Cream Eggs!” It also helps our kids feel connected with friends and family back in the States. They cannot believe that people they sometimes have never met before care enough about them to send them little “happies” in the mail.
- Remember birthdays. Even if they don’t remember yours. Facebook gets the gold star for thinking up that little feature that reminds it’s users of all of their “friends’” birthdays. A simple, “Happy birthday! Thinking of you!” goes a long way.
- Don’t forget about them. We’ve lived overseas for almost 9 years. That seems like forever. We’ve added two extra kids since we left, and our little boy who was one year old when we left is now almost ten. It is amazing to us that people we knew before we came overseas still keep in touch, send emails, care packages, etc. It’s difficult to maintain those relationships over time and distance; but it’s worth it.
- Find out if they have specific needs, and then try to meet them. Sometimes, your friends might have some specific needs. But chances are, they aren’t going to broadcast it and ask for help. So, ask them.
- Visit them!!! One huge way to encourage folks living overseas is to just go see them! Get a taste of what their life is like. Eat what they eat. Shop where they shop. Meet their friends. Travel where they travel. Take a public bus. Go to a local festival. Spend time fellowshipping with them – give them refreshment! Babysit their kids while they go on a date or while the husband and wife take care of errands or visit friends sans kiddos. Do a short sports camp, art camp, reading camp, etc. for the expat kids in town. Do a one-week Book study with the expat women. The possibilities of how you can encourage your friend just by spending a week or two with them are really endless – and the impact could last a life time. Really, it could.
These are just a few ideas of how you can encourage your friends or family overseas. There are more, but these are the ones we keep coming back to. Really, the biggest thing you can do is something – just do something.